Tag: Steve Strange (Page 2 of 2)

MIDGE URE Interview


Like many graduates of Synth Britannia, Midge Ure first became interested in electronic music when in 1975, KRAFTWERK’s ‘Autobahn’ hit the UK singles charts.

Already using Yamaha’s flagship SG2000 guitar, in 1977 he was able to negotiate with the Japanese company to make his first synth purchase, a CS50, at half price. At the time, he was a member of THE RICH KIDS with Glen Matlock, but with THE SEX PISTOLS refugee preferring Hammond organs and brass sections to Minimoogs, the inevitable musical differences ensued.

Breaking away with drummer Rusty Egan in 1978, the pair recruited Steve Strange as vocalist and formed VISAGE. It became a platform to create modern electronic dance music influenced by the likes of DAVID BOWIE, KRAFTWERK, LA DÜSSELDORF, YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA that could be played at Egan and Strange’s ‘Club For Heroes’. Another band who Egan and Ure loved from that period was ULTRAVOX; their multi-instrumentalist Billy Currie was invited to join the sessions for VISAGE’s debut album and this eventually led to Ure joining ULTRAVOX.

In 1985 while juggling ULTRAVOX and his work with the Band Aid Trust, Ure released his debut solo album ‘The Gift’ which spawned the rousing No1 single ‘If I Was’. Two further albums ‘Answers To Nothing’ and ‘Pure’ followed.

But in 1993, he went ‘Out Alone’ on an intimate tour which saw Ure performing on his own, accompanying himself primarily on just an acoustic guitar. In 1995, his fourth solo album ‘Breathe’ signalled a new direction with a more Celtic feel and traditional instrumentation. Although initially the album had a slow start, Swatch chose the title track to accompany a well-received advertising campaign. As a result, the album became a massive seller all over Europe.

Ure has been particularly busy over the last 6 years. The successful live reunion of ULTRAVOX with the classic line-up of Warren Cann, Chris Cross and Billy Currie in 2009 led to the recording of 2012’s ‘Brilliant’ album. 2014 saw the release of ‘Fragile’, his first solo album of original material for over 12 years. A striking return to form, it included a number of poignant songs such as ‘Become’, ‘Dark Dark Night’, ‘For All You Know’ and ‘I Survived’.

But for 2015, 20 years on from its original release, Midge Ure is performing the ‘Breathe’ album its entirety as part of an ongoing concert tour, augmented on stage by Cole Stacey and Joseph O’Keefe from INDIA ELECTRIC CO. He kindly took time out from rehearsals and chatted about the ‘Breathe Again’ tour and much more…

Out of your solo albums, why have you chosen ‘Breathe’ as the one for the full length live showcase treatment?

A lot of my solo albums go through hell before they’re actually released. ‘Fragile’ took a long time to come and ‘Breathe’ was one of those albums where the record company, in their infinite wisdom, decided to A&R me after all these years! They wanted me to not use the same musicians, not to record in the same studios, not to produce the album myself… so they asked me to gather a whole bunch of songs which I did and I ended up with a producer I could work with, Richard Feldman who had done an album for the model and actress Milla Jovovich which was a great album.

So I made ‘Breathe’, it was fantastic and I delivered the album, only to have it sit on a shelf for a year while BMG started sorting out their internal problems. It was a hideously frustrating process to go through, and when it finally came out, the first two years of its life, it was the worst selling record I’d ever made.

So until Swatch came along and picked up the title track thanks to a fan in Italy, the album was an absolute disaster. But because of a TV commercial, it turned the entire thing round. It bounced all around Europe and was a big record eventually. I thought how good it would be to play the album in its entirety because I’ve never done that before.

At the time it was released, it was a departure from what you were known for, with a lot of traditional instrumentation?

It was more organic… there was still electronics involved with samples and stuff like that, but I think it’s just what you end up doing. You try to run a million miles from what you’re known for and it’s all part of the process of finding your own feet and trying to decide what you are and what you want to do. Part of that process would have been turning my back on the standard synthesis and rediscover my Scottish roots.

So the idea of doing something more organic had a bit of oomph to it, and was quite appealing at the time. I don’t think you’re the same person your entire life and you go through phases like chapters in a book. So when you get to chapter twenty five, you’re a very different person to the one who started off in chapter one. It was just another phase of discovery. To me, the important part of it was the quality of the songs, not just necessarily the instruments enhancing the songs.

A lot of ‘Breathe’ was recorded in America?

It was, yes… Richard Feldman is an American guitarist / producer and we did an awful lot of it at his place but a good chunk of it at mine in Bath.

There appeared to be some Country music vibes creeping in?

You know what, I’m not quite sure about that… I think Country and traditional music are all very intermingled. Country music is just music from the country it’s sourced from. So country music would be Scottish or Irish or whatever, and it was when it got to America, it became Western. Country & Western music is based in roots music, it’s all the stuff I would have been taught as a kid in school.

The title song turned out to be one of the biggest songs of your career internationally, yet it is one of your lesser known ones in the UK?

Yeah, very much so… quite simply, the TV advert didn’t run in the UK, only on satellite channels so it didn’t get the same exposure here. And of course, good ol’ Great Britain, the radio didn’t play it even though it was No1 in the whole of Europe.

There was a European chart that was an overall one for the whole continent including the UK, and for months and months, it was the No1 record! Yet UK radio chose not to play it! So there’s nothing much you can do about situations like that. You put it out and hope for the best. And sometimes you don’t get the best…

You roped in Robert Fripp to play on ‘Guns & Arrows’. What was it like working with him?

It was great, he’s lovely guy and a brilliant guitarist. You know, to have the guy who played on ‘Heroes’ play on one of your tunes is quite spectacular. It was very fortuitous actually, because he was in Los Angeles when I was recording there and I went to Dave Stewart’s studio just across the road from where I was. Robert was there and he said “of course I’ll play on the track, but do you mind if I bring 20 Japanese guitar students?”; I said it was fine and I had this bizarre scenario of Robert playing his fabulous Frippertronics thing in the recording room and in the control room looking through the glass window were these Japanese kids, all jotting down everything he did and said, with him lecturing “this is Midge… this is his song… I’ve known Midge a while… what I’m going to do is this…” – so he’s playing these textures and explaining it to these Japanese kids, it was most surreal but a great thing to happen.


You also had Shankar playing a blistering violin solo on ‘Live Forever’, how are you reinterpreting the album on the ‘Breathe Again’ tour with the guys from INDIA ELECTRIC CO?

The INDIA ELECTRIC CO guys play a variety of instrumentation and there’s only two of them. So there’s three of us on stage but we manage to cover a lot of stuff. For three people, we’re making quite a big noise. Joseph O’Keefe who plays violin is just spectacularly good as a musician. He’s one of these guys who can hear in a cacophony that one string is out of tune. Him and Cole Stacey are both incredible, but they’re so versatile and jump between instruments all the time.

I’m very pleased with how it’s gone. Even though the album wasn’t a huge success in the UK, the reaction it’s had so far has been phenomenal. The response of people has just been great, whether they knew the album or not. I was a little wary of going in and playing an entire album live of material that some of the audience wouldn’t know at all, but it seems to be irrelevant. They seem to be hooked on the textures, the melodies and the atmospheres. So maybe I’m just under estimating the audiences taste.

Of course, ‘Breathe’ is only so long, so you will also be playing material from throughout your career. How are you deciding which songs to play, especially as a fair number of your best known songs are synth based and are being rearranged for a more organic setting?

Well, I think that the song itself will dictate whether it can fit in that format or not, but I’ve been quite surprised at the ones which really sell; ‘Fade To Grey’ works brilliantly in this format as does ‘Lament’. And ‘Vienna’ works well! You would think, how could you recreate a song like that and get away with no drums, no bass, no whatever… you treat it differently, you just look at the song as an entity, it is its own thing and it’s like a salad; it changes flavour depending on what dressing you put on it.

So a song just changes it flavour by whatever dressing you put on it, so it changes whether you’re doing it electronically, doing it with a rock band or doing it with acoustic instruments. The song should be malleable and pliable, and still work as a song. But I have to say, some stuff we’re doing that’s not from the ‘Breathe’ album is working a treat. In fact, some of it is going down better than the ones designed to be played in that format.

Has there been a song you’ve loved and tried to do in this organic three piece line-up but that hasn’t worked?

Not really, although I shied away from doing ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’, because I’m not quite sure how it would work in that format… maybe that’s just me being a coward. But then again, I’ve been doing it solo acoustic for quite a long time now and it seems to work when it’s stripped right down. It’s down to the quality of the song.

I remember when the ‘Breathe’ album came out at first, and with the band I’d got to back it up, we couldn’t get ‘Live Forever’ to work. It just didn’t sound right and I scrapped it. So we never played ‘Live Forever’ live; but with the three piece, it works brilliantly! Don’t ask me why! It just does, it gels and has become a firm favourite in the current shows. I don’t know, maybe the ones you suspect will work, don’t! And the ones that won’t, do! You just have to be surprised and go with the flow! *laughs*

You released the excellent album ‘Fragile’ in 2014, how do you look back on its reception?

It was better than I expected in a lot of areas and no worse than I kind of expected. Some of the great stuff was really great. But there was one review that called it “Ultravox lite”; I didn’t get that at all because I think it’s a very different animal to ULTRAVOX.

A lot of places got it, The Huffington Post review put it in the Top 10 albums of 2014, even in America which is spectacular for an album that maybe a lot of people in America wouldn’t understand. But I think because it was something real, raw and honest, I think I came up with a very interesting album with a very good, strong batch of songs. I think some of the songs are the best that I’ve ever done. I spent a long time on it and poured my heart and soul into it. I didn’t listen to anybody outside telling me or guiding me how to do it, I just did exactly what I felt at the time.

Tracks like ‘Wire & Wood’ and ‘Bridges’ reminded people of your aptitude for instrumentals, so would soundtrack work interest you in the future?

It’s always interested me but it’s never come my way properly, other than a few small independent movies, that was good fun and great to do. I always thought ULTRAVOX should have been doing soundtracks with that Germanic synthesizer feel.

People like Trent Reznor who have been involved in electronics are doing soundtrack work… it never came ULTRAVOX’s way, but maybe we wouldn’t have been very good at it! Who knows? But the music kind of lent itself to that cinematic openness and atmospherics.

Are there any intentions to perform songs from ‘Fragile’ with a full band rather than in an acoustic setting?

We’re doing ‘Become’ and ‘Fragile’ in the ‘Breathe Again’ show… ‘Fragile’ lends itself well to that format because it’s a delicate little thing. I would LOVE to do the entire ‘Fragile’ album with a band, but it’s down to necessity, demand and cost… putting a full band together and major rehearsals, it’s a very costly thing to do. And I’m wary of piling on the ticket price to make an audience pay for it. So it’s something that would have to be well thought out, to do it properly and do it well. But I’d love to get my teeth in there and play the entire album.


You used Melodyne for both ‘Fragile’ and ULTRAVOX’s ‘Brilliant’ album but got some criticism for it. I find it quite strange that some electronic music fans have a problem with voice processing technology, especially when you used the equivalent period aesthetic on the third verse of ‘New Europeans’ for example… how do you see it?

I think anyone who cuts out processing or techniques in any form is just stupid! It like saying “why would you want to record on a computer when you’ve got tape machines?” or “why would you want to record digitally when you’ve got analogue?”. People don’t progress that way!

If I was somebody who couldn’t sing and had to pitch vocals or do all sorts of stuff to make it sound in tune, of course, then I should be pilloried for it! But I’m not!

I use it for effect… my hearing pitch has got better and more refined over the years, so anything that’s slightly out for me, I want to get that right! But that nobody else can hear it… I used to drive ULTRAVOX crazy! It’s a bit like with my new glasses that are scratched in the middle of the lens, nobody can see it but I can!

So there’s nothing wrong with effecting something to make it the best it can possibly be, if that’s what you want to achieve. It’s very different hiding behind something because you’re not good enough. And it’s very different from being good enough, and making it better.

I don’t use it all the time, it’s a tool and no different from any of the plug-ins that I use when I make music. It’s a bit like saying “why do you use reverb on your voice?”… well, it’s because it suits the song and makes it more interesting.

And when you you’ve already recorded something and then think “oh, I wish I’d played that as a minor!”, why wouldn’t you use a tool that would allow you to do that without having to re-record the entire thing? You can adapt it and change it… music should be malleable, you should be able to play it ‘til you’re blue in the face. Some people are just anal to tell you the truth! *laughs*


How was the ‘Brilliant’ experience for you and recording with ULTRAVOX again? It seemed reinvigorate you?

Yeah, it’s funny because people think I did ‘Fragile’ after ‘Brilliant’, it was 80% there! But ‘Brilliant’ was what sparked me up to actually finish it.

So a lot of the textures, sounds and character of the ‘Brilliant’ album kind of stemmed from my dabblings on ‘Fragile’ where I’d run out of steam… I didn’t see the point of finishing it, I was making an album that only a handful of people would appreciate.

It was just me being a twat really, but that’s the feeling you get! You think “what’s the point of putting your heart and soul in it?” So doing the ‘Brilliant’ album with the guys was the spark that I needed. It gave me the incentive to think “WOW! There’s something still there!”, because any artist is full of self-doubt… the first thing you think isn’t “the record company were crap” or “the radio are rubbish for not playing it”, but “maybe I’m not good enough”. You look at yourself first and foremost.

That’s the process I went through and the whole get-together with ULTRAVOX was just such an enjoyable thing. I’m very proud of that record, I think we did a great job and it gave me the boost I needed to get on and finish my own record.

What is the state of play with ULTRAVOX?

I haven’t seen Billy since we walked out of the O2 after the SIMPLE MINDS show, I haven’t seen Warren as he’s in Los Angeles but Chris has just texted me. We always said we were never getting back together to take over the world as a band and pretend we were a bunch of teenagers, we all have other things that we do.

And we said that if and when something interesting pops up, we would get-together and do it. But right now, there’s no “yes, we’re doing something” and there’s no “no, we’re never doing anything again”. It’s just there resting on a shelf.

You’ve under taken quite a number of collaborations recently with MOBY, SCHILLER, LICHTMOND and JAM & SPOON, have you any more planned?

I’ve never planned a collaboration to tell you the truth, it sort of lands on your lap. All of those you mentioned, they approached me and if I find it interesting, I’ll work on something, especially these days when it doesn’t involve jumping on a plane and disappearing from home for a week. It’s all done via the internet these days, someone sends you an idea for a track and you stick it on your computer. You start chopping it around, write new bits for it, do some lyrics, record a vocal, email it back to them and they assemble it at their place. It’s making collaborations much easier.

What’s been your favourite collaboration?

My favourite collaboration? KATE BUSH ‘Sister & Brother’… what a joy to go to my grave knowing that KATE BUSH and I are on the same piece of music, how cool is that?

Photo by Paul Cox

Was further collaboration with the late Mick Karn ever a realistic proposition following ‘After A Fashion’ in 1983, other than those aborted JBK sessions that spawned ‘Get A Life’ and ‘Cry’ on your ‘Little Orphans’ rarities CD?

We did some stuff in Montserrat, Mick came out for a couple of weeks and did some basic grooves, textures and backing tracks… there’s a copy of it somewhere but I’ve never tried to complete any of it. We never got round to doing it, it was just one of those things. We talked about various projects, but we never got over the dabbling stage and never got seriously into it, which is a pity.

The JBK thing never got any further than those two tracks, all those guys who were in JAPAN are incredibly talented, and that would have been an interesting collaboration, but it never really happened. The idea was to put a band together, but I didn’t want to be the singer and we could never come up with someone who could take over the vocals. If I sang it, it would have been too much like me or ULTRAVOX, so it kind of fizzled out.

You wrote ‘Personal Heaven’ with Glenn Gregory of HEAVEN 17 and recorded it with X-PERIENCE, have you ever considered doing a collaborative EP or anything with him?

We’re probably better mates than collaborators! But yes, nothing is out of the question, especially with somebody like Glenn, he’s such a joy to be around and a lovely guy. And these days, you can do it without confusing people… you can go off and just do a little sideline. But back in the ULTRAVOX days, you couldn’t really do it, that’s your band, that’s what you do and you should never step outside that. So these days, it’s great to just go out and collaborate with people, I fully enjoy the whole process. So it’s a good idea Glenn and I getting together and doing a few songs ever so often, to see what we come up with.

Photo by Gabor Scott

Of course, your best known collaborative project was VISAGE and we lost Steve Strange recently. Have you had a chance to reflect back on that clourful period at The Blitz Club?

You can’t help for all that stuff to go around your head, it was a major part of my life and Steve was a major part of that period. It was just dreadfully sad, the whole thing… it was just pathetic and horrible. Y’know, I’m not sure what he was doing towards the end, VISAGE was never meant to be a live act.

It was a studio project and meant to be a ‘Willo The Wisp’ thing that you couldn’t really grab hold of it cos it disappeared… that was the whole concept Rusty Egan and I came up with, it was just a passing thing. But Steve looked like he was having fun doing it.

I hadn’t seen Steve for a year and a half, two years or whatever prior to his passing, so it sparked off all the memories and all the fun stuff. Like the challenge of putting something like VISAGE together from a variety of different bands who were all still in existence and touring. So trying to put them all in the same place at the same time was a tall order.

The majority of the initial VISAGE recordings were done in Martin Rushent’s studio which was a little house in the bottom of his garden which had all his equipment in. Martin used to come down and watch we were doing, he’d never seen or heard anything like it, all these electronics. He used to hang about every night watching what Rusty and I were up to, watching Billy doing his sequencing and things like that, it was great. He was coming down with notebooks to learn how it all worked, and then went off and made THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Dare’ album! *laughs*

It was very beneficial, he gave us studio time because it was his label who was originally putting the stuff out, but he won because he got to make ‘Dare’ which was fantastic.

What’s next for you after the ‘Breathe Again’ tour?

There’s some dates in Germany and Dubai at the end of the year. But I’ve got to get back in the studio and carry on writing, now that I’m fired up. I want to keep that momentum going, I don’t want it to be another 12 years… I’m not sure I’ve got another 12 years, so I just want to get on with it! *laughs*


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Midge Ure

The ‘Breathe Again’ Tour 2015 includes:

Gateshead Sage (27th June), Southport Atkinson (28th June), Bury St. Edmunds Apex (17th September), Andover The Lights (September 18th), Redhill Harlequin (19th September), Falmouth Princess Pavilion (1st October), Porthcawl Grand Pavilion (2nd October), Cheltenham Tithe Barn (3rd October), Wolverhampton Wulfrun Hall (4th October), Preston Guildhall Charter Theatre (14th October), Ulverston Coronation Hall (15th October), Leamington Spa Assembly Rooms (16th October), Hunstanton Princess Theatre (17th October), Lincoln Drill Hall (22nd October), London Union Chapel (23rd October)

http://www.midgeure.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/midge.ure/

https://twitter.com/midgeure1


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
1st June 2015

Lost Albums: VISAGE The Anvil

By the time that VISAGE’s second album ‘The Anvil’ came out in Spring 1982, things were very different for the cast who had produced the eponymous debut started in 1979, and which in early 1981 spawned the massive European hit ‘Fade To Grey’.

Midge Ure had accepted Billy Currie’s invitation to join ULTRAVOX and were now riding hide internationally thanks to the success of ‘Vienna’; sax playing guitarist John McGeoch left both VISAGE and MAGAZINE, and was now a member of SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES; keyboards man Dave Formula though remained in the Manchester post-punk combo.

Meanwhile, thanks to the success of ‘A Club For Heroes’ at The Blitz in Covent Garden and Barracuda on Baker Street, Rusty Egan and Steve Strange were about to embark on their biggest venture yet with the Camden Palace. Strange, in particular had become a bona fide celebrity and was being snapped by Paparazzi hanging out with the likes of Jack Nicholson, Elton John, Diana Dors, Marianne Faithful and Jerry Hall.

In many respects, it was unsurprising that ‘The Anvil’ appeared to lack the focus of its predecessor, but it was still a very good record. The synthesized European romanticism that had dominated the ‘Visage’ debut was omnipresent, especially with the lavish monochromatic Helmut Newton cover photograph. But a funkier perspective had been introduced to proceedings, thanks to Strange and Egan’s growing interest in the new funk forms that had been emerging in clubland, particularly from New York.

Photo by Denis O’Regan

It was a direction that had been indicated on ‘We Move’, the B-side to ‘Mind Of A Toy’ and in order to authentic things further, there had been talk of ROXY MUSIC bassist Gary Tibbs joining, but he was then head hunted by ADAM & THE ANTS. Instead, original VISAGE bassist Barry Adamson rejoined, but this time as a hired hand and his subsequent contribution to half of the album was to have a profound effect.

The funkier direction also allowed Midge Ure to indulge in techniques and styles he would have never got away with in ULTRAVOX. But while VISAGE had been started in 1978 by himself and Rusty Egan as a project to make up for the shortage of suitable Euro styled electronic dance music in the clubs, he had not been naturally schooled in funk the way Rusty Egan had been as a soul boy. While the genre blend was to produce some fabulous music, the continuing musical differences would subsequently lead to a fallout between the two friends.

To the public at least, it was business as usual with the album’s launch single ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’. Very much in the vein of ‘Fade To Grey’, it was set to a drum machine syncopated by Rusty Egan’s percussive mantra while Billy Currie’s piano and ARP Odyssey made its presence felt in the solo. And reprising the prominent female vocals that featured on ‘Fade To Grey’, ex-HOT GOSSIP members Perry Lister (Mrs Billy Idol) and Lorraine Whitmarsh added their own wispy feminine touch, as they were to do throughout the album alongside backing vocals from Ure and Egan.

While ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’ delivered what was expected, the harder edged, Teutonic salvo of ‘The Anvil’ almost certainly was not. Featuring some superb guitar work from Midge Ure and metronomic drumming courtesy of Rusty Egan minus his hi-hats, it was Steve Strange’s tale of a night out in New York’s notorious gay club of the same name.

Billy Currie’s superb screaming ARP Odyssey and Dave Formula’s brassy synth riff completed the industrial revolution. It had been intended as the album’s first single and a German version ‘Der Amboss’ had already been recorded as one of the bonuses.

Rusty Egan said: “For me, ‘The Anvil’ was the lead track, ‘The Anvil’ in German (‘Der Amboss’), the 12-inch remixes… but the record company didn’t support that! They were pushing for another ‘Fade To Grey’ so they were going for ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’!” While, Polydor were not so keen to use ‘The Anvil’ as a launch pad, DIE KRUPPS’ subsequent electro metal cover in 2007 proved belatedly how seminal the track actually was!

While the following ‘Move Up’ with its hard bass sequence developed on the title track, it suffered being sat next to it, but that set the scene for the rather bizarre but enjoyable sonic sandwich of ‘Night Train’. With Dave Formula’s wobbling, detuned synth line bouncing off Barry Adamson’s bass and Gary Barnacle’s squawking sax, the funky overtones augmented by Rusty Egan’s drumming were then counterpointed by an ULTRAVOX styled piano and violin passage in the middle eight.

While the elements all provided a marvellous musical excursion, Ure’s final production was perhaps not direct enough for the American club market that Egan and Strange now coveted. Ure said to Smash Hits at the time: “During the last album I kept hearing phrases like ‘commercial’ and ‘appealing to the American market’. I don’t like the ‘American market’ much”!

So when ‘Night Train’ was remixed for single release in Summer 1982 by noted American disco producer John Luongo at the instigation of Egan, it spelt the end of the diminutive Glaswegian’s association with VISAGE. “I didn’t like it” he simply said.

Despite an impressive first side, even better was to come on side two with some real lost masterpieces in amongst the throng. First up was the ULTRAVOX meets CHIC hybrid of ‘The Horseman’. It certainly was interesting to hear Midge Ure aping Nile Rodgers, albeit using his distinctive flanged guitar style rather than a more traditional fluid rhythm slice.

And with Ure’s backing vocals so prominent in the mix of ‘The Horseman’, especially in the middle eight, it was almost an ULTRAVOX song in all but name. While Steve Strange’s characteristic, but occasionally dispassionate lead voice was an essential part of VISAGE’s identity, it was Ure’s input that provided the credible vocal musicality, as proven by Strange’s hopeless, undirected vocals that were on evident 1984’s disastrous Ure-less VISAGE album ‘Beat Boy’.

‘Look What They’ve Done’ was a dramatic slice of neu romance, and it was on songs like these where Steve Strange’s less tutored vocals came to the fore, suiting a colder electronic backdrop more than the misguided adventures into rock which came later.

But with the glorious ‘Again We Love’, every aspect of VISAGE’s collective talents clicked in unison, both vocally and instrumentally. From the dramatic start and the eerie, atmospheric melancholy to the stupendous percussive climax and echoey fade, ‘Again We Love’ summed up what VISAGE was all about. Yes, they were the New Romantic supergroup and were a formidable combination when firing on all cylinders. And it was this song on ‘The Anvil’ that probably got closest to recapturing the grandeur of ‘Fade To Grey’.

With that impressive trio of songs, the album took a slight dive with ‘Wild Life’. This was disappointing as the B-sides of the album’s two singles, the metronomic instrumental ‘Motivation’ and the proto-PET SHOP BOYS of ‘I’m Still Searching’, were far superior. Typically the type of rushed filler that adorned most albums of the day, ‘Wild Life’ sounded like several musical idea fragments gaffer taped together with a middle section that had Rusty Egan impersonating BOW WOW WOW! It had no proper lyric to speak of either but thankfully, victory was snatched from defeat with the beautiful, dreamy ambience of ‘Whispers’.

Featuring Perry Lister and Lorraine Whitmarsh surreally conversing like five year old girls over a hypnotic piano motif, the track’s chilling shimmers and sad synth replies were interrupted halfway through by a simple, heartfelt melody over a stark funereal beat. Its enigmatic use on a TDK TV advert featuring Steve Strange actually got it a single release in Japan. And ironically, despite Strange not appearing on the track itself, ‘Whispers’ has now sadly gained further poignancy and resonance in light of his passing on 12th February 2015.

‘The Anvil’ is possibly the most under rated album of that Synth Britannia / New Romantic period. Although it went silver in the UK and reached No6 in the album chart, it never got the artistic acclaim it deserved, no doubt overshadowed by the accomplishments of ULTRAVOX, JAPAN, DURAN DURAN, ASSOCIATES and SIMPLE MINDS at the time. While not as consistent as  VISAGE’s debut, there are certainly a number of songs on ‘The Anvil’ that are among the best of the era and truly merit reinvestigation.


Dedicated to the memory of STEVE STRANGE 1959 – 2015

‘The Anvil’ is available on CD via Rubellan Remasters at https://www.rubellanremasters.com/online-store

http://www.visage.cc/

http://www.billycurrie.com/

http://www.daveformula.com/

http://www.midgeure.co.uk/

http://rustyegan.blogspot.co.uk/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th March 2015, updated 21st March 2020

STEVE STRANGE 1959 – 2015

BlitzSteve2011a

Steve Strange, lead vocalist of VISAGE and the face of the New Romantic movement has sadly passed away, aged 55.

A statement on the VISAGE Facebook page said: “We are extremely saddened to announce that Steve Strange died at 11.15 local time on Thursday 12th February, in Sharm El Sheik International Hospital, Egypt. Steve died in his sleep, of Heart Failure. Steve’s family, band members and friends are all distraught at this sudden news of his untimely death. Steve’s family request privacy at this extremely difficult time”.

Born Steven John Harrington in Newbridge, Caerphilly, he headed for London to seek fame and fortune after he saw THE SEX PISTOLS play in his hometown.

Courting controversy almost instantly, he formed a punk band called THE MOORS MURDERERS who recorded a song called ‘Free Hindley’. He then joined THE PHOTONS with whom he wrote what would become ‘Mind Of A Toy’, before working as an assistant for THE RICH KIDS whose members included Midge Ure and Rusty Egan.

When THE RICH KIDS disbanded in 1978, Ure and Egan started developing an interest in electronic music while simultaneously, Strange and Egan started a Bowie night at Billy’s in Soho where art students, hairdressers and fashion designers could gather to a soundtrack that also included ROXY MUSIC and KRAFTWERK. First called ‘Bowie Night’ and then ‘A Club For Heroes’, the evening eventually moved to The Blitz in Covent Garden. While Egan DJ-ed, Strange acted as host with a strict door policy of admitting only “the weird and wonderful”. The clientele were initially labelled by the press as The Cult With No Name and The Blitz Kids, but were eventually dubbed The New Romantics.

As work progressed on Ure and Egan’s electronic project now named VISAGE, Strange was recruited as vocalist while Billy Currie from ULTRAVOX and MAGAZINE refugees Dave Formula, John McGeoch and Barry Adamson also joined.

Recording an album at Martin Rushent’s Genetic Studios in Reading, VISAGE released their first single ‘Tar’ in 1979 on Radar Records. Business problems at the label stalled any potential ‘Tar’ had, but the single attracted interest from Polydor Records.

Due to all the other VISAGE members being contracted to other labels, a complex arrangement was brokered through THIN LIZZY’s management company Morrision-O’Donnell with Strange being the sole signatory on the eventual deal.

Meanwhile in 1980, noticing some kindred spirits, David Bowie paid a visit to The Blitz to recruit extras for his ‘Ashes To Ashes’ video; among the chosen ones was Strange.

The New Romantics had now gone mainstream. It was not long before VISAGE finally released their self-titled debut album and the iconic single ‘Fade to Grey’ was a hit all over Europe, becoming a German No1 in March 1981.

Further hits such as ‘Mind Of A Toy’, ‘Visage’ and ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’ followed and the success of both VISAGE and The Blitz allowed Strange and Egan to move into the 1500 capacity Camden Palace in 1982 for their next club venture. But it was here than the perils of fame and fortune started to manifest themselves. When Ure, Currie and Morrison-O’Donnell bid adieu to VISAGE, it severely left the band in a fragmented state musically and managerially. Meanwhile the pressures of keeping such a large club venture profitable, while surrounded by the tempting excesses of the era, took their toll with Strange succumbing to drug related and mental health issues in the following years. There was also a fall-out with Rusty Egan.

Strange revived VISAGE in 2004 as a live act for the ‘Hear & Now’ nostalgia tours and did his public profile no harm when he won reality TV show ‘Celebrity Scissorhands’ in 2007.

There were attempted reconciliations with Rusty Egan on Living TV’s ‘Pop Goes The Band’ in 2009 and The Blitz Club Reunion event in 2011, but to no avail. Indeed, Egan had alleged that Strange misplaced VISAGE royalty payments owed to himself, Dave Formula and the estate of the late John McGeoch.

Meanwhile, a 2013 comeback album ‘Heart & Knives’ and subsequent tour featuring Strange as the only original VISAGE member drew mixed responses. Controversial right to the end, at the time of Strange’s passing, Universal Music had launched legal action for appropriating parts of the original VISAGE recordings for the recent reworked best of album ‘Orchestral’.

Chris Payne, who had co-written ‘Fade To Grey’ with Billy Currie and Midge Ure said: “I have been forthright in my criticism of the new VISAGE, but it is very sad to hear about the death of Steve Strange. I had never met him personally, although we shared something in common with the song ‘Fade to Grey’”.

What does remain of Steve Strange’s legacy is his very significant contribution to popular culture. In addition to VISAGE, ‘A Club For Heroes’ spawned bands like SPANDAU BALLET and CULTURE CLUB, while others regulars such as Dylan Jones, Peter Ashworth and John Galliano made their names in writing, photography and fashion respectively. Madonna played her first UK concert at Camden Palace in 1983 while ‘Fade To Grey’ was voted ‘Song of the Decade’ on the prestigious German music show ‘Hit Giganten’ during an 80s special in 2010.


Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th February 2015

VISAGE Hearts and Knives

With the well received returns of ULTRAVOX and DURAN DURAN in the last few years, it was inevitable VISAGE would resurrect themselves.

Originally a synthesized collective comprising of Midge Ure, Rusty Egan, Billy Currie, Dave Formula and the late John McGeoch, it was fronted by the face of the New Romantic scene, Steve Strange. But on this new album, only Strange remains although Formula co-writes ‘Diaries Of A Madman’, the only track to emerge from an aborted attempt to revive the brand as VISAGE II back in 2007.

Rusty Egan was involved in the early stages of ‘Hearts & Knives’, but departed due to creative differences while despite an announcement by Strange on German TV that he was working with Ure again, the diminutive Glaswegian has distanced himself from the project although it is known he had submitted a song on condition that it involved Egan.

The absence of the key musical driving forces that gave the world ‘Fade To Grey’, ‘Mind Of A Toy’ and ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’ really exposes itself on ‘Hearts & Knives’. Even an attempt to lob the iconic Compurhythm intro of ‘Fade To Grey’ onto ‘She’s Electric’ to reference past glories cannot detract from the poor quality of this album.

The first two VISAGE albums were notable for their arrangements, counterpoints and musicality while layers of Midge Ure’s backing vocals propped up Strange’s lead monotone.  But like the disastrous third album ‘Beat Boy’ which saw Strange and Egan try to keep the VISAGE name alive after the departure of the ULTRAVOX and MAGAZINE crew, Strange’s voice is laid bare and simply not strong enough for a collection of songs to be based around.

Bare is a description that could be used for the music too. The production is almost demo-like; the rhythmical base is particularly thin and while it is great to hear ex-ULTRAVOX guitarist Robin Simon again, the squawky nature of his interplay becomes irritating from being pushed too far up in the mix. And despite claims that exclusively analogue synths are used, they’re hardly noticeable with the assorted technicians seemingly unaware of VISAGE’s history.

It’s not all bad; ‘Shameless Fashion’ is unsurprisingly the single and could have come off ‘Beat Boy’ while ‘Dreamer I Know’ has unleashed melodic potential. But compared with ULTRAVOX’s ‘Brilliant’ or DURAN DURAN’s ‘All You Need Is Now’ though, ‘Hearts & Knives’ just doesn’t cut it!


With thanks to Vicky Berry at Quite Great PR

‘Hearts & Knives’ is released on 20th May 2013 by Blitz Club Records as a CD and download

Please visit http://www.visage.cc/ to obtain a free download of ‘Shameless Fashion’

The new line-up of VISAGE play Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen in London on 5th June 2013

http://www.facebook.com/therealvisage


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Artwork Photo by Peter Ashworth, Portrait Photo by David Levine
13th May 2013, updated 19th May 2015

Return To THE BLITZ CLUB 2011

The Blitz Club celebrated its 30th Anniversary with a special reunion at its old site which is now The Red Rooms in Holborn, London.

its original soundtrack centred on the music of David Bowie but also included KRAFTWERK, ROXY MUSIC, ENO, LA DUSSELDORF, GINA X PERFORMANCE, ULTRAVOX, THE NORMAL, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA, TELEX and MAGAZINE amongst others. This vibrant post-punk scene, whose clientel were dubbed ‘The Blitz Kids’ and ‘The New Romantics’, became the catalyst for several bands including SPANDAU BALLET, CULTURE CLUB and of course, VISAGE as well as assorted fashion designers and visual artists.

Hosted by its founders Steve Strange and Rusty Egan, among the special guests attending tonight’s party are SPANDAU BALLET’s Martin Kemp and John Keeble, Martin Kemp’s wife and WHAM! backing singer Shirlie Holliman, SPANDAU BALLET manager Steve Dagger and renowned photographer Peter Ashworth whose striking images adorn the covers of SOFT CELL’s ‘Non Stop Erotic Cabaret’ and ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’, ASSOCIATES ‘Sulk’, EURYTHMICS ‘Touch’ and the very first VISAGE album.

Also reunited for the first time in many years were members of The Blitz Club dance troupe SHOCK including Carole Caplin, LA Richards, Tim Dry aka Tik from TIK & TOK and Barbie Wilde who appeared in ULTRAVOX’s ‘Passing Strangers’ promo video with the absent Sean Crawford aka Tok.

After an initial DJ set by Rusty Egan, PARADISE POINT took to the stage to deliver a lively performance with their bassist Roman Kemp following in the footsteps of his father Martin by playing The Blitz Club. His mum Shirlie looked on proudly. Despite at least three members of the group looking barely old enough to be playing on licensed premises, they were impressive with a polished danceable pop style that wholly suited the occasion.

Singer Cameron Jones has a charismatic confidence which should see PARADISE POINT fill the gap in the market for a smart boy band that actually plays their own instruments. During the interlude to remove the stage to reveal the dancefloor proper, both Steve Strange and Rusty Egan took to the mic to thank everyone for attending.

The old Blitz Club dancefloor filled as its original resident DJ spinned classic after classic with many songs from the original Blitz Club playlist. It was quite surreal to not only be hearing the 12 inch mixes of ‘Fade To Grey’, ‘To Cut A Long Story Short’ and ‘R.E.R.B.’ in the very place that helped inspire them, but to also be in the presence of the very people that were involved in their genesis and recording.

With the essential inclusion of David Bowie’s ‘Heroes / Helden’, ‘The Model’ by KRAFTWERK, OMD’s ‘Enola Gay’, JOY DIVISION’s ‘She’s Lost Control’ and a bit of Bryan Ferry et voila… this was the perfect combination to celebrate nearly four decades of fantastically inventive avant pop music.

Next to take the decks was Princess Julia who famously appeared in the iconic ‘Fade To Grey’ promo video with Steve Strange. Again, it was surreal to see the pair standing together in the DJ booth.

Onlookers were even treated to the former Steven Harrington doing some impromptu miming over the soon-to-be released reworking of VISAGE’s ‘Frequency 7’ which now features extra lyrics borrowed from HEAVEN 17’s ‘Temptation’. This is a song which incidentally also has Blitz Club connections as it was Rusty Egan who recommended Carol Kenyon to Messrs Marsh, Ware and Gregory when the Sheffield trio were seeking a soulful backing vocalist for their then yet-to-be completed 1983 single.

Meanwhile Princess Julia’s set was varied, ranging from the not entirely unexpected like DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ to the biggest surprise of the night, FANCY’s cult Euro hit from 1983, ‘Slice Me Nice’. The various Germans and Scandinavians, who have made the journey specially to be at this reunion tonight, were particularly appreciative!

But with the landlords The Red Rooms reverting to their usual source of income as a table dancing establishment, it was time for The Blitz Club, like Cinderella, to make its exit before midnight.

The whole night was terrifically friendly with lots of great electronic pop music and many attendees got into the spirit of things by togging up as New Romantics, Peacock Punks or in the case of ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, 1950’s German bank clerks!

The Return To The Blitz Club 2011 couldn’t have been any better. With ULTRAVOX having just signed a new recording deal with Universal Music and plans also for a new VISAGE album, the legacy of The Blitz Club is alive and well! Tonight really was a Club For Heroes!


Rusty Egan’s DJ setlist

THE KNIFE Pass This On
THE STOOGES I Wanna Be Your Dog
THE BLUE NILE Headlights On The Parade
THE HUMAN LEAGUE Being Boiled
TOM TOM CLUB Genius Of Love
KRAFTWERK Neon Lights
DAVID BOWIE Sound & Vision
IGGY POP Sister Midnight
KRAFTWERK Trans Europe Express
DAVID BOWIE Fashion
GINA X PERFORMANCE No GDM
SIMPLE MINDS Changeling
LIAISONS DANGEREUSES Los Ninos Del Parque
BLONDIE Heart Of Glass
SHOCK R.E.R.B.
ULTRAVOX Visions In Blue (EMP 09 Remix)
ABC Tears Are Not Enough
YOKO ONO Walking On Thin Ice
BRYAN FERRY Let’s Stick Together
DAVID BOWIE Ashes To Ashes
DAVID BOWIE Boys Keep Swinging
SPANDAU BALLET To Cut A Long Story Short (Long Mix)
HUMAN LEAGUE The Sound Of The Crowd
OMD Enola Gay
SOFT CELL Tainted Love
THE CURE In Between Days
JOY DIVISION She’s Lost Control
DEPECHE MODE See You
ULTRAVOX Hiroshima Mon Amour
VISAGE Mind Of A Toy
DURAN DURAN Planet Earth (Night Version)
IGGY POP The Passenger
ASSOCIATES Club Country (12″ Version)
DAVID BOWIE Heroes/Helden
KRAFTWERK Das Modell
VISAGE Fade to Grey (Club Mix)


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Richard Price
24th January 2011

Newer posts »